Parrot disease clean up underway

25 October 2002

A clean up operation is underway on three Auckland properties suspected to have been contaminated with the parrot disease - Psittacine pox virus.

Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) Exotic Disease Coordinator Matthew Stone said an investigation into the potential outbreak was instigated in July after Psittacine pox was diagnosed in two Rosellas presented to an Auckland veterinarian.

During tracing of the source of the birds MAF learnt of a disease outbreak in a West Auckland aviary. Wild-caught Rosellas are thought to have been the birds worst affected during this outbreak, and up to 200 birds may have died. There is no specific treatment or effective vaccine for the virus

The source of infection on the property has not been established. Investigations involving the suppliers of the wild caught Rosellas have not found further evidence of infection.

"Although several strains of other avian pox-viruses are known to occur in New Zealand, this is the first time Psittacine pox-virus has being diagnosed here. Our investigation is focussed on determining where the infection came from and where it may have spread to," he said.

Dr Stone said MAF's approach to risk management of the outbreak has been to implement containment and decontamination on the three properties. This will involve destruction of birds, disposal of litter, and cleaning and disinfection of cages and surrounds.

"Pox viruses can survive for long periods in contaminated environments. It is also possible that infected birds may not necessarily exhibit any symptoms. There is no test that can satisfactorily determine the health status of the birds on the properties, so the difficult decision has been taken to destroy the birds," he said.

Geoff Hicks, Chief Technical Officer for the Department of Conservation (DOC) supports this action.

"Psittacine pox virus could have dire consequences for New Zealand's native parrot species. The Kakapo is already under threat and the impact on the Kaka, Kea and Kakariki could also be severe. Any risk to these indigenous species from the pox virus is unacceptable and we support MAF's response in every way," he said.

Psittacine pox can either be spread by contact between captive birds and wild birds, biting insects or direct contact within populations of introduced wild parrots. Infection can also be spread within caged bird populations, through bird sales and shows, humans contact, and infected equipment.

Symptoms vary between a wet and dry form of the disease. Dry symptoms include nodules on the unfeathered parts of the skin, the ceres, around the eyes and feet. The nodules form blisters that erupt to scabby erosions. Secondary infections may delay eventual healing, but mortality in this form is low.

The wet form causes lesions on the mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, and throat. White plaques will be seen on affected surfaces, with fluid effusions. The disease may become systemic, with internal lesions in the throat, gastro-intestinal tract, lungs and air sacs causing birds to be very ill and depressed.

Anybody who suspects their birds may have become infected with Psittacine pox should contact a veterinarian or MAF's Exotic Disease Hotline (0800-809-966). Depending on the description of clinical signs, samples to confirm diagnosis may be arranged.

MAF has developed a Psittacine pox information sheet which has been circulated through DOC, Regional Councils and conservation and aviculture associations.

For further information contact:

Philippa White Communications Adviser

Contact MPI

for general enquiries phone

0800 00 83 33